Friday, 8 August 2014

The White Fruit of Banaldar by John D. MacDonald, 1951

An interesting story with a twist in the tail for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

The auctioning of the five planets marked the end of one part of life, the beginning of a new, for Timothy Trench.

September 1951
The White Fruit of Banaldar is a science fiction tale by John D. MacDonald and was published in the September 1951 issue of Startling Stories. It is about man’s curious nature and his innate desire to posses the very thing that is out of his reach.

Timothy Trench is a tall, young man with an entrepreneurial streak. He wants to buy the planet of Banaldar that his former employer, Transgalactic Development, is putting up for auction along with four other planets. He has a vision for Banaldar where he once worked. It is a beautiful earth-size planet with green hills, rolling seas, and a climate fit for man. After much pleading and begging he manages to raise two thousand mil-pesos from reluctant investors. The auction takes place in Mexico City, capital of the world. However, his hopes and dreams are soon dashed when he is outbid by Morgan, leader of the Free Lives, a group of seven hundred men, women, and children who live the way they were meant to live—naked.


“What are you going to do on Banaldar?” Timothy asked hopelessly.

Morgan turned. “Do? We live naked and eat berries and hunt with stones and clubs. What do you think men are meant to do? Live like this?” He included in an expressive gesture all of the glitter and bustle of the capital. “No. We live in caves and we fill our bellies and breed our children and sleep well at night.”

Timothy still has a chance of acquiring his beloved planet. As the second highest bidder he is entitled to the planet if Morgan does not develop or populate it at the end of three years.

The young man has little patience. He takes off for Banaldar almost immediately. When he lands on the planet, he finds it deserted and uninhabited. He searches far and wide but the Free Lives are nowhere to be seen. And then he sees them—hanging in clusters in five-hundred foot giant trees he thought were long dead. The Free Lives have undergone physiological changes. They are like pale fruit. They are white, soft, and bloated. They have green stalks entering the backs of their necks. Their eyes are almost closed and they look deeply contented. They sway helplessly in the breeze.


As Timothy stares in fascination at the new form of the Free Lives, one of the monster trees casts its hypnotic spell on him and begins to nuzzle him at the back of his neck and nibble at it with a million little needle-like teeth.

The White Fruit of Banaldar is traditional science fiction until you come to the end when John D. MacDonald takes you by surprise with an element of horror. I didn’t see it coming but I was a trifle disappointed with the end. As I see it, though, horror is not misplaced in science fiction, especially when you don’t know what’s out there. All in all, a nice little story told in JDM’s inimitable style.

16 comments:

  1. Prashant, I wasn't aware John D. had ventured into SF. I only ever regard him as a crime/mystery author, especially his Travis McGee books. I started and stopped that series last year - I ought to get back to it.

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    1. Col, JDM wrote many short stories for science fiction magazines including "Startling Stories," "Astounding," and "Galaxy Science Fiction." Many of these are available online. I have a few of his Travis McGee novels that I haven't read yet.

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  2. I like my SF with alittle bit of satire thrown in so this sounds right up my street - I always forget that McDonald also dabbled in other genres - thanks Prashant.

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    1. Sergio, you're welcome. JDM dabbled in sf and thrillers too and, I think, he was quite comfortable writing science fiction. There is an easy style to his writing.

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  3. JDM wrote a few SF stories, but he concentrated on suspense fiction for most of his career. Love the cover on STARTLING STORIES!

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    1. George, I agree and some of those are available online. I have read very little of his suspense fiction but I have a few of his crime novels that I hope to read.

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    2. Very glad you're using "sf" as your default, Prashant. Among the many other things he wrote, that other sf, sports fiction, was among the kinds of thing MacDonald would publish early on...

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    3. Todd, it is thanks to you that I use "sf" instead of its other variants. You once told me, via comments, that "sci-fi" wasn't right. I alternate sf with the full term.

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  4. That illustration is hysterical! Looks like it came from a 1950s naturist magazine. He wrote two full length sci fi novels, too: THE WINE OF DREAMERS and BALLROOM OF THE SKIES. According to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction MacDonald wrote about fifty science fiction stories for various magazines. A lot more than I thought he did. Both the novels are usually pretty easy to find in used book stores and online.

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    1. John, I haven't read his sf novels but intend to read them as I like his books, be it sf or suspense. I didn't know he'd written some fifty sf stories of which I found three online. Thanks for the info, John.

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    2. A fair amount of pulp illustration demonstrated as much skin as they thought they could get away with. Often with convenient shrubbery as in this example.

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    3. Todd, I have seen similar type of black-and-white illustrations, though not necessarily nudity, in various sf and fantasy magazines, not to mention detective-mystery periodicals. They usually make up the entire first page followed by the title of the story and a couple of paragraphs to start with.

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    4. Yes, the largest illustration is usually that on the first page as presented, to get the reader hooked...a longer story often will have a few more illustrations at various points. This is true of both the "slick" magazines of various sorts and the pulps, and digests and even the occasional little magazine.

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    5. Todd, I have also seen these illustrations spread across two pages but, I think, those are the exception rather than the rule. I prefer line drawings in black and white. So much detailing goes into etching them. Not easy to draw.

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  5. Now that you have written about this story, it does not surprise me that MacDonald wrote sci fi also. But I did not know that. Very interesting.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. If you like his crime fiction, you'll enjoy his sf too. I found his writing style similar. This story wasn't complicated. It has encouraged me to seek out his other sf stories as well as novels that John mentioned above.

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